The Practice of Naturalness: A Historical-Philosophical Perspective

  • Arianna BorrelliEmail author
  • Elena Castellani
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Naturalness, Hierarchy, and Fine-Tuning
  2. Naturalness, Hierarchy, and Fine-Tuning


No evidence of “new physics” was found so far by LHC experiments, and this situation has led some voices in the physics community to call for the abandonment of the “naturalness” criterion, while other scientists have felt the need to break a lance in its defense by claiming that, at least in some sense, it has already led to successes and therefore should not be dismissed too quickly, but rather only reflected or reshaped to fit new needs. In our paper we will argue that present pro-or-contra naturalness debates miss the fundamental point that naturalness, despite contrary claims, is essentially a very hazily defined, in a sense even mythical notion which, in the course of more than four decades, has been steadily, and often not coherently, shaped by its interplay with different branches of model-building in high-energy physics and cosmology on the one side, and new incoming experimental results on the other. In our paper we will endeavor to clear up some of the physical and philosophical haze by taking a closer look back at (real or alleged) origin of naturalness in the 1970s and 1980s, with particular attention to the early work of Kenneth Wilson. In doing this, we aim to bring to light how naturalness belongs to a long tradition of present and past physical and philosophical criteria for effectively guiding theoretical reflection and experimental practice in fundamental research.


Historical contextualization Naturalness Renormalization Group Kenneth Wilson Physics beyond the Standard Model 



We are grateful to the participants of the 2018 Aachen workshop on “Naturalness, Hierarchy, and Fine Tuning” and to the anonymous referee for very helpful comments and suggestions. Arianna Borrelli wishes to acknowledge funding by the project “Exploring the “dark ages” of particle physics: isospin, strangeness and the construction of physical-mathematical concepts in the pre-Standard-Model era (ca. 1950–1965)” (German Research Council (DFG) Grant BO 4062/2-1), and the Institute for Advances Studies on Media Cultures of Computer Simulation (MECS), Leuphana Universität Lüneburg (DFG research Grant KFOR 1927).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Advanced Study on Media Cultures of Computer Simulation (MECS)Leuphana University LüneburgLüneburgGermany
  2. 2.Department of Humanities and PhilosophyUniversity of FlorenceFirenzeItaly

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